“Now you cyah have Carnival, wit’out chutney bacchanal – chutney soca!”
– Drupatee, “Cultural Fusion” (2015)
The chutney soca season is upon us once more and I would like to thank the management of Trinidad Carnivals for, once again, allowing me the privilege of providing you with some critical insight into the 2015 bacchanal – both good and bad – as we gear up for the Semi-Final round of competition, taking place this Friday, January 16, 2015 at Rienzi Complex, Couva.
THE GOOD: Chutney Soca Monarch celebrates 20 sound years on the Carnival scene, growing out of modest beginnings and into, now, the largest Indo-Caribbean event in the world. To mark this milestone, the competition has been split into two categories, Traditional Chutney and Chutney Soca. Though no formal definitions have been offered, the former suggests compositions that reinstate Bhojpuri folk melodies and instruments, the Bhojpuri tongue, and Indo-centric themes, while the latter continues the progressive movement of the genre along the lines of soca and the Carnival space. That, indeed, means the crowning of two monarchs on the night of the Finals. Interestingly, a split was last attempted in 2008 when Groovy Chutney and Chutney Soca categories were adopted, but this change was abandoned the following year. What makes the Chutney Soca/Traditional division especially opportune is its advent in the wake of a growing public demand for a return to the sounds and styles of chutney past and the public outcry for the ‘clean-up’ and ‘upliftment’ of the competition by promoter George Singh. To recall, the 2014 Chutney Soca Monarch Finals comprised a mixture of chutney soca and chatak-matak (traditional) tunes. The latter fared poorly. This partition will, hopefully, offer a more level playing field for all the competitors.
THE GOOD: The announcement of a Traditional Chutney Monarch has meant the return of veterans and ‘living legends,’ many of whom were seminal in the formative years of the competition. Among them are Rakesh Yankaran (who last competed in 2001); Rasika Dindial (who last competed in 2004); and former monarchs Heeralal Rampartap (who last competed in 2010) and Rooplal G (who last competed and won in 2008).
THE GOOD: Rikki Jai and Ravi B entering the competition as a tag team is a refreshing development this year. Having competed as rivals in the past, this unusual move marks the first time that two former monarchs will compete as one and seems particularly symbolic of the union between the elder and younger generations.
THE GOOD: It is good to see several artists from the younger generation qualifying for both components of the competition (Saleem Beharry, Artie Butkoon, Adesh Samaroo, Nishard Mayrhoo), suggesting that the folk traditions are not all being lost to the modernization of the culture.
THE BAD: The chutney soca industry continues to be dominated by two production houses, Big Rich’s D’ Pungalunks Factory and Rishi Mahato’s Maha Productions. While the quality of music has improved over the last three seasons, most of the artists who have qualified for competition belong to one of those two labels.
THE BAD: With two competitions in one night, 40 competitors were selected for the semis (20 contestants per category). The field will be further narrowed in half, with just 10 acts per crown advancing to the finals. This will make competition extremely tight.
THE BAD: With stiff competition, fewer non-Indian artists have qualified this year than in the past two seasons. While Michael Salloum (Soca Elvis) and Edwin Ayoung (Crazy) are no strangers to the chutney soca stage, soca diva Nadia Batson has impressively advanced to the semis, and it will be interesting to see what kind of presentations they each bring.
THE BAD: There have been allegations, since semis results were announced, that some artists are not competing with ‘original’ songs. This has been an ongoing conflict in chutney soca since the years of bollyney (the use of Bollywood melodies in chutney soca compositions), which have now been barred from competition. Anil Bheem was purported to be competing in the Traditional category with a cover version of a Surinamese chutney (baithak gana) song, “Morie Torie Djorie,” but he quickly dispelled the rumour, stating that he had qualified with an ‘original’ song (released publicly this week). Also in the Traditional category, Adesh Samaroo has been suspected of plagiarizing from chutney artist Krishendat ‘Blues’ Singh, while Navita Mahato has been accused of plagiarizing an old song originally performed by Rajdai Sookraj, a chutney artist of yore. There has been no word yet from the promoter and his screening committee on whether these artists will still be allowed to compete.
THE BAD: Hitman, Hunter and Rick Ramoutar are noticeably missing from the roster of qualifying contestants, despite having popular songs this season. No ‘official’ reasons have been given for their absences although suggestions of offensiveness and chutney soca politics have surfaced.
KI has a tough task ahead if he intends to retain the monarchy this year. Who will make it and who will break it? Take a listen to the Traditional and Chutney Soca mixes of the qualifying participants and choose your favourites!
Cultural researcher by choice, culture lover by nature, DJ MACO is a Canadian-born but Caribbean-bred chutney soca-cologist during the day and an amateur beat-mixer by night. When he’s not working on his PhD, he’s busy pelting waist, drinking gin and rum (in that order) and living life like he’s playing mas. He’s really not that macocious, by the way, and you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org